Amongst the Mungbean Millitia; the front line of anti-Adani activism

Reports from the front line of anti-Adani activism in the Bowen region, in the campaign for climate change.

By Miriam Deprez & Eliah Lillis

First published on 4ZZZ Brisbane Community Radio Station, September 2017

From an undisclosed camp within the Bowen region, a convoy of activists set off after dawn on Tuesday for the first step in a campaign of direct civil disobedience. Their target, the controversial Carmichael coal Mine proposed by the Indian mining group, Adani.

Protesters peacefully blockaded the road into Abbots Point coal terminal, disrupting workers from arriving on shift and giving themselves a visible presence from the heavily trafficked Bruce Highway. 

A large but diplomatic police contingent faced off against the protest, with several national and regional media crews also in attendance.  At the request of a protest banner, passing traffic was invited to ‘Beep to Stop Adani’. However, the honks received were a mixed response, with a middle finger accompanying several of the horn blasts. Locals seem divided on the issue of the coal mine, and also the anti-Adani campaign. Many of the regional towns-people see the proposed mine as a much needed economic life-blood and view the protesters as outsiders who don’t understand their local issues.

After several hours of police negotiations, ten activists who refused ‘move-on’ orders were subsequently arrested and the blockade came to an end. Cries of support erupted by the remaining protesters as those arrested were taken from the scene in police paddy wagons.

A weeklong series of actions and trainings has been planned, with the campaign now taking the next step into the realm of non-violent direct actions. Activists from many backgrounds have come together; from local indigenous Juru land owners, locals from North Queensland, to people from across Australia and around the world - all allied in the fight to stop Adani. Traditional land owner Aunty Carrol Prior says she is proud and thankful of everyone’s support, in a once solitary fight she began years ago.
In what is expected to be a lengthy campaign, an emboldened spirit is necessary. Despite her 71 years, Aunty Carol has vowed to fight to the end. “When I can’t see, I can’t walk and can’t talk, that’s when I’ll stop fighting”.

Strengthened by what they view as a successful first action, protesters bounce along the corrugated dusty road back to their secret camp to celebrate the release of the arrestees, and to plan their next action.

bowen locals bite back

Locals feel the Adani mine is a light at the end of the tunnel for their depressed mining town. This Pool and Pump shop proudly display their commitment to ensuring the mine goes ahead. 

Locals feel the Adani mine is a light at the end of the tunnel for their depressed mining town. This Pool and Pump shop proudly display their commitment to ensuring the mine goes ahead. 

The regional town of Bowen has this week been thrust into national headlines over the controversial Adani mega-mine proposal, as activists from around the country start their campaign of non-violent direct action against Adani. However, some local residents see the Adani mine as a much needed economic opportunity, and view the protesters as outsiders with no knowledge of the problems the small town faces. Regional reporter, Eliah Lillis was there to gauge the community response. 

As a week of action ends, a campaign begins

Under a sweltering north Queensland midday sun, a line of police stand opposite protesters outside The Pier, an upmarket restaurant in Townsville. Inside are senators Matt Canavan, George Christensen and Fiona Nash, who all publicly support Adani. Protesters have gathered outside the business luncheon to voice their opposition.  Downtown, another group has gathered outside the regional Adani headquarters. By the end of the day, 5 protesters will be arrested, and a week of actions in the Bowen region will have come to an end. But the Mungbean Militia say they have only just began.

This week was the first step in what is anticipated to be a lengthy campaign of non-violent direct action (NVDA). While opposition and protest to the proposed mine has been ongoing for years, this has been a significant step up in disruptions in the local region. Blockades to the Abbott point terminal, lock-ons to coal train lines and sit-ins at Adani’s head office in the region have all been designed to cause maximum disruption and attract significant media attention. And in that, the protesters have been successful.

First deemed the ‘Mungbean Militia’ by George Christensen, the protesters have been a favourite of local media, controversial within the region. Indeed, tensions were high in Bowen by the end of the week. Local shops proudly displayed signage re-appropriated from the protesters. ‘#Stop Adani” is transformed to “Stop Adani, over my dead body”. An official Adani flag is proudly flying next to a store front. After an action where protesters unfurled a #stopadani banner from the towns water tower, Bowen mayor Andrew Wilcox promised his constitute water would be tested for contaminates. The message is clear, the so called ‘Grot protesters from Sydney and Melbourne” by local councillor Michael Brunker, are not welcome here.

Emma Briggs, a protester who last week ‘locked-on’ to a railway line to Abbott point, to halt work, is aware of this local sentiment, and is apologetic. “I’m sorry to the minority who are upset with what we are doing but I think if they knew what was going on they would understand.”  Indeed, Mike Brunker himself denies climate change. When asked about possible environmental impacts from the mega mine in relation to man-made global warming, his response was, ‘oh, if you believe in that." 

The highway from Bowen to Townsville is near identical to most roads in the region. Hot, never-ending and with a seemingly endless corridor of cane fields on both sides. Except now, this road is punctuated by #stopadani graffiti. Property damage is officially banned within the guidelines of NVDA, and protesters agree to these conditions before entering the campaign. Winning the hearts and minds of locals is a critical element to the activist’s strategy, with trained community liaison officers assigned to engage with the public. However, this graffiti has further angered locals, with several citizens expressing their discontent and hampering the activists efforts so far of creating allies in the region.

After a total of 17 arrests, numerous actions and widespread media coverage, Camp Babirra has disbanded and a week of protest is over. Many activists returned to homes, both nationally and within the region. Most have vowed to return until the proposed mine is stopped.